FTA Advances Dallas DART, Minneapolis BRT, BART Transbay Corridor Projects

The Federal Transit Administration has signed grant agreements or made formal funding allocations for three mass transit Capital Investment Grant (CIG) projects in recent days.

Today, FTA held a formal event to celebrate the recent signing of a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) agreement with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) to provide $60.8 million in federal CIG funding as 47.2 percent of the $128.7 million cost of a project to lengthen 28 of the DART light rail stations so they can accommodate three-car trains and thus load more passengers at peak hours.

On June 19, FTA announced the signing of a grant agreement to provide $74.1 million in CIG funding for 49.2 percent of the $150.7 million cost of a project to construct a 17-mile bus rapid transit line running south from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville, Minnesota.

And, less importantly but not unimportantly, FTA announced on June 20 that it had formally allocated $300 million in fiscal year 2018 CIG appropriations towards the BART Transbay Corridor core capacity project to buy additional railcars, add new communications systems, build a new car storage yard, and build new power substations to increase system capacity between San Francisco and Oakland. This project does not yet have a signed FFGA between FTA and BART, and FTA can reverse funding allocations at any time, but this action does serve as a sign that FTA has confidence in the project. Despite its high cost (overall cost of $2.8 billion, of which BART is asking for $1.25 billion in CIG funding), the project has the highest rating (“high” overall) of any major project in the CIG development pipeline.

The new grant agreements and allocations give us a chance to update our tables showing how current and potential funding commitments compare to the actual amount of appropriations already made and on-hand for the CIG program. Ignoring one-off “small start” projects that don’t require multi-year funding, and removing the proposed Durham-Orange NC light rail from the calculations because that project died after the last annual CIG program summary report came out, the CIG program will need $3.6 billion in future appropriations (in FY 2020 and thereafter) to finish paying for all the multi-year FFGAs that have already been signed, and if all of the multi-year projects currently in the Project Development or Engineering phase of the CIG program get FFGAs, those projects will require an additional $18.5 billion in future appropriations. The total future appropriations needed for all current and “pipeline” CIG projects is $22.1 billion.

New starts. In terms of new systems and/or new extensions of existing systems, Congress and FTA are about halfway through funding the eight projects with FFGAs that have not had all their money allocated yet ($3.9 billion provided versus $3.8 billion still to come). Five more projects are in the Engineering phase, and of those, the Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3, Minneapolis Southwest LRT, and Seattle Federal Way extensions appear closest to getting their FFGAs. (FTA has $330 million in unallocated FY 2019 CIG funding set aside for new starts, and having already set aside the scheduled share of the money for the projects that have FFGAs, it is pretty clear that the $300 million is reserved for some combination of those three projects.)

Farther down the line, there are eight more new start projects in the “Project Development” phase that hope to someday enter the Engineering phase and then after that to get a FFGA. Those eight projects collectively want $12.6 billion in future federal CIG appropriations – $8.8 billion for the New York City area ($6.8 billion for the Hudson River Tunnel and $2.0 billion for the Second Avenue Subway) and $3.8 billion for projects in the rest of the country.

The future appropriations that will be needed for just the new start projects that have signed FFGAs is $3.5 billion, and the future CIG appropriations needed for all the new start projects in the pipeline is $16.7 billion, yielding a total of $20.2 billion in future appropriations needed for the new start part of the CIG program.

The following table is taken from FTA data except that the $1.5 billion estimate for BART Silicon Valley Phase II is taken from the Valley Transportation Authority website and, while FTA gives a range of $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion for the CIG share of the Portland Southwest Corridor LRT, we split the difference at $1.35 billion. As noted earlier, we have removed the Durham NC project from the list.

Core capacity. While new starts were the traditional focus of the CIG program, in recent years Congress has also made projects eligible that increase the carrying capacity of existing fixed guideway systems.  As of the recent announcements, there are three “core capacity” projects with FFGAs, with $925 million already having been provided for these projects and another $740 million to go. Of the two projects in Engineering, one has already had its entire federal share pre-appropriated (back in the old earmarking days, mostly) and the other will need $950 million in future funding allocations.

As of this point, there is just one core capacity project in the Project Development phase, the New Jersey Portal North Bridge, part of the Gateway program that has become highly politicized between the Trump Administration and Congress. The program currently has $649 million in unallocated appropriations available (much of that was put in by former House Appropriations chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) with the clear intent of going towards Portal North, but Congress’s internal ban on earmarks prevented Frelinghuysen from actually legally dedicating the money for that specific project. In total, counting the FFGAs and the projects in the pipeline, the future appropriations needed would be $1.85 billion ($2.5 billion offset by $649 million in on-hand unallocated appropriations).

It is, of course, interesting that CIG projects are the projects that take the longest to plan, design, and construct, and while most of the FTA budget comes in the form of contract authority that is provided years in advance and which can be relied on years before it is needed, Congress instead chose to fund these projects out of annual appropriations that cannot, constitutionally, be guaranteed in advance. (Yet another part of the 2005 SAFETEA-LU law that is having an effect on the Treasury long after the law itself expired.)

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